Northern Ireland news

Rugby rape trial: Relatives wept as acquittals announced in a packed courtroom 12

 Paddy Jackson outside court after being found not guilty of rape and sexual assault. Picture by Hugh Russell
Seanín Graham

MINUTES before the verdict was delivered in a stifling Court 12, a security man at the entrance to the public gallery quietly gave a colleague the unprecedented instruction to "lock the doors".

Earlier that morning the expectation was that it could be at least another day before a decision was reached by the 11-person jury.

But as word quickly filtered through that a verdict was imminent, silence and tension gripped the 100-seat area - the biggest in any Northern Ireland court - where four rows of journalists sat close by the defendants' relatives and friends.

Some members of the public who have no link to the case but have attended each day eased forward on their chairs as someone shouted "is there room for one more".

Just metres away, the four young men at the centre of the trial looked square on, showing no emotion and not speaking to each other as they waited for Judge Patricia Smyth's entrance.

Paddy Jackson's mother, who has accompanied him each day of the nine-week trial, stared ahead as the judge issued a stern warning that the "gallery would be cleared" if any reaction was shown when the jury foreman read the verdict.

Paddy Jackson on the way out of court in Belfast not guilty. Picture By Hugh Russell

As the acquittals were announced one by one shortly before 12.30pm, relatives clasped each others' hands and openly wept.

The defendants did not flinch, however, remaining impassive in the dock before calmly striding out onto a heaving landing.

That restrained emotion inside the courtroom gave way to back slapping, vigorous hand-shaking and bear hugs - with one junior defence barrister even wiping tears from her eyes among the swathe of legal wigs and gowns.

Stuart Olding had to remain in the dock for a "formality" charge in which the judge directed a not guilty verdict.

A trickle of people returned to the courtroom and gallery for the charge to be put to Mr Olding, where a security man joked "so what do we do tomorrow".

Just moments before he was formally cleared of all counts, Rory Harrison and Blaine McIlroy sat in the public gallery for the first time.

As their friend was told he was free to leave, they approached each other and let out long sighs.

Outside, in the blinding sunshine, the glare of hundreds of photographers' flashbulbs and the clicking of shutters greeted the defendants as the media surged forward.

Each of the men emerged separately flanked by close family members into the sea of reporters and cameramen, with Mr Jackson and his legal team almost crushed in the scrum.

An elderly woman who has attended hearing each day of the hearings chewed on a chocolate bar as a passing motorist stopped at the traffic lights and shouted "so they got off then" and gave a thumbs up.

Nearby, two women held a small white placard with the words 'I believe her' held aloft. A man came up to them and told them to go home "as it's all over now".

They stood on defiantly, but within an hour everyone was gone and Chichester Street had returned to normal, two months after one of the most high-profile trials in Northern Ireland legal history had begun.

Read More

Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding found not guilty of rape
Allison Morris: There were even giggles in the public gallery as graphic details of alleged rape were read out (Premium)
Alleged victim's name was posted on comments section of an online news site
Relatives clasped each others' hands and openly wept as verdicts delivered
Victims' support group calls for review into how trials are conducted
Allison Morris: I have two daughters and would not encourage them to go through retraumatising rape trial (Premium)
One of the most expensive rape trials in UK judicial history
'I Believe Her' rallies planned across Ireland
Ireland rugby captain Rory Best's decision to attend court on day two of the rape trial provoked a storm of criticism
About the rugby rape trial judge Patricia Smyth
PSNI says woman at centre of trial 'upset and disappointed' at verdict
Paddy Jackson's lawyers say status as famous sportsman 'drove the decision to prosecute'
Paddy Jackson's lawyers call for crackdown on 'vile' social media commentary during criminal proceedings
Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding 'will continue to be relieved of all duties' as review takes place
Stuart Olding faces major battle to return to pinnacle of his sport
Paddy Jackson had unwavering support from his parents
Stuart Olding: I deeply regret events of that evening... I am sorry for the hurt caused to the complainant
Blane McIlroy admitted being prone to exaggeration
Rory Harrison had been working in Australia before he flew home to stand trial
Video: Paddy Jackson thanks judge and jury for fair trial
Public Prosecution Service: 'Ultimately right' rugby rape case was brought to trial

Paddy Jackson leaves court after being found not guilty. Picture by Mal McCann

Paddy Jackson outside court yesterday. Picture by Hugh Russell

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